CBS: Maybe the House Ethics Committee should change its name
posted at 3:35 pm on March 2, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
Yeah, but to what? The House CYA Committee? The House Unicorns and Skittles Panel? Perhaps they should call it the See No Evil Commission, as CBS’ Brian Montopoli wonders exactly how the Ethics panel missed what the separate Office of Congressional Ethics made painfully clear:
Last week, the bipartisan committee, known formally as the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, cleared seven lawmakers who had been accused of trading millions in federal dollars for campaign contributions.
The exoneration came despite a report from a separate group, the Office of Congressional Ethics, that found defense contractors that received the federal money (which came in the form of earmarks) believed their contributions were directly tied to federal money coming their way. …
Yet the House ethics committee cleared Visclosky, Republican Todd Tiahrt of Kansas and the other lawmakers of any wrongdoing. (The Office of Congressional Ethics had recommended the ethics committee investigate Visclosky and Tiahrt specifically.) Zoe Lofgren, the chair of the ethics committee, insisted “there was a complete separation between the fundraising activities and the legislative activities on the part of these members.” The committee’s statement is here, and its report is here.
This despite the fact that Visclosky’s chief of staff and appropriations director attended the fundraiser, and despite of emails like this one, reported by the New York Times, between executives at Sierra Nevada Corporation explaining why the company was donating an additional $20,000 to Visclosky: “That’s what each of the companies working with [the] PMA [Group] and Visclosky have been asked to contribute. He has been a good supporter of SNC. We have gotten over 10M in adds from him.” (PMA is a now-disbanded lobbying organization specializing in defense earmarks tied to the late Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, an aggressive earmarker who was among the lawmakers cleared by the ethics committee. The firm was raided by federal prosecutors as part of an investigation into its practices.)
One reason that the House ethics committee cleared the lawmakers, according to Washington ethics lawyer Robert Kellner, is that what they did doesn’t stray far from standard Washington practice.
To quote from Cheech and Chong, it’s not a gang, it’s a club. And the other members of the club don’t want to shed all that much light onto practices that they and their allies use to hold onto their seats. So, if Pete Visclosky invited a bunch of defense contractors to a fundraiser and got urged to communicate their earmark requests at the same time (and brought his operations people along to facilitate that process), no big deal. In fact, for some, it might serve as a seminar for later use.
Besides, even if the Ethics Committee had concluded that these seven lawmakers were also lawbreakers, what would have happened? Nancy Pelosi would have applied the Rangel standard, which holds that one has to have committed treason to have to suffer consequences for ethics violations, or have been a Republican, which would be worse. At worst, it would have resulted in a public scolding, but nothing radical like losing one’s committee assignment. After all, Democrats have an agenda to cram down America’s throat! Corrupt members in the caucus is merely a distraction.